Do you ever think to yourself “man, it would be fun to get up at an ugodly hour on a Saturday morning when the temperature is below freezing outside to go run 13.1 miles with my best running friend?” Surely I’m not alone in this camp. There are times I question these decisions, though. Not when I’m hitting submit to send a bit of my bank account to a race, but more so when my alarm goes off at 4:45 AM. But I digress.
The Star City Half Marathon, which takes place in Roanoke, is a race I’ve been interested in for years. It just looks like a fun race! In years past, I have always had other conflicts or previous races that kept me from running this one. So this year, in the spirit of “race palooza” I made sure to carve out space in my racing schedule for it.
I was also able to convince Barry and Kim to join in, too. This would be Kim’s first half marathon since having her baby last December, and first half in two years. Kim and I run most of our long runs together, and we have run several of the same races. We would often start together, but then run our own races. This time we decided to run the whole thing together and I was excited about that. Maybe a little less so when I woke up to find that it was 17 degrees outside…
I had my typical peanut butter pancake with coffee and tried to figure out what to wear for the race. Running in cold weather can be tricky. You don’t want to overdress, because you’ll end up sweating and then you’ll be really cold. With a predicted temperature of 21 degrees at the start (which turned out to be accurate), I went with capris, a long sleeve over a short sleeve, gloves, and ear warmers. Spoiler alert: it was not enough.
Kim met Barry and me at our house, and we all piled in the truck to make an uneventful drive up to Roanoke. Luckily we stopped along the way at a rest area for a bathroom break, because the race start was seriously lacking in porta potties. I saw a total of 3, for a race that had 800 runners in the half and about 400 in the 10K. That is not enough. Barry hopped in line at one of them, but Kim and I were good to go so we headed over towards the start. We were both underdressed, and freezing. Luckily, it wasn’t windy and there was no precipitation. Thank goodness for that!
Barry caught up with us just before the start. They got the race started on time and just like that we were off! We bid Barry goodbye and wished him well, as he took off ahead of us. The first mile was a bit crowded, and we had to weave a bit before finding some space.
For the first 6 miles of the race the half marathon and 10K ran together. We did a “lolli pop” type out and back through the downtown Roanoke area.
It’s always a bit hilly running through downtown Roanoke, mainly due to the bridges. But at least with those you get a downhill for every uphill. They can be tough, but we took them one at a time as they came and focused on getting to the top of each one. I always enjoy running through the downtown area because I think the older buildings and signs are really neat.
Although I didn’t say anything to Kim, I started to feel kind of rough around miles 3 and 4. My stomach felt all bubbly/gurgly and my body was feeling tired. But I kept trucking along and just focused on the pretty downtown scenery with the mountains in the background. We got to run around the Transportation Museum, which looks like such a neat place. Kim and I commented that neither of us have been there and that we should go sometime.
Just after the museum, we ran down a road that is right next to the railroad tracks. This used to be the home stretch of the Blue Ridge Marathon before they changed the course, and Kim and I were both reliving old race memories. Naturally, I had to run right on the tracks painted on the ground, just like I used to for Blue Ridge.
During the first part of the race, we got to see Kim’s parents, her sister, and her sister’s family at mile 1.5 as we headed into downtown, and at mile 5 as we headed back towards the start area. That was a lot of fun! Around mile 6 we ran right by the finish, which is also where we had started. The 10K’ers turned left towards the finish and the half marathoners continued to go straight.
I finally started to feel better at this point, which is good because we were headed into a long two mile climb. I didn’t know it at the time, but Kim had been feeling good through the first part of the race, but started to hit a rough patch just as we hit mile 7. From miles 6 to 8 we were constantly going uphill. Sometimes it was a gradual incline and other times it was very steep, but it was always up. Kim stayed tough through this section and we made it up the entire thing without stopping to walk!
In retrospect, it wasn’t an awful climb. But running uphill like that for two miles chips away at you a bit at a time until you’re worn out. We were happy to find a decline just after mile 8, but dismayed that we still had a few small climbs as we made our way back to the valley floor. Just before mile 10, while coming down a sharp hill that was actually kind of painful, we saw Kim’s parents and sister again. I yelled that we were still having fun, but Kim said she couldn’t quite agree with that. I told her we just had a 5K to go.
This was the tough part, though. We ran right past the finish line, on a bike path that was next to it. There were people milling around with their finisher’s medals, and even people who had finished their race walking down the bike path we were trying to run up. It was tough, mentally, knowing that we had to go do a 3 mile out and back when they were done. But I told Kim before long we were going to be back where they were, so we headed out on a section of the Roanoke greenway for the final 3 miles.
Right after this picture my camera died, so I don’t have any more photos of the course. We ran along the river most of the way on the Greenway, which was pretty, but we were both just ready to be done. By mile 11 we were tired and I started playing a game of focusing on getting a half mile at a time. In over 2 hours of running I was still freezing and had not warmed up at all. My hands, feet, and face were especially cold.
It seemed to take forever, but we finally reached the turnaround (which was more of a loop around) and headed back towards the finish. Kim was really tired, and she was on the verge of cramping, but she fought through it. We ran up a few more little hills that were small, but annoying, including one right before the final stretch to the finish. We saw Kim’s sister and parents at the top of the hill and they cheered us on. A bit further Barry was there cheering us on, too. And then it was a flat/slight downhill stretch to the finish and we were done!
At the finish line we grabbed some water and Gatorade and met back up with Barry. There was a small sign indicating the post-race party was at a hotel across the street. We deliberated and decided to head over there. It was a good decision, because they had quite the spread of food! There were bagels, cream cheese and peanut butter, bananas and oranges, cornbread, pinto beans, chili beans, actual chili, and some baked goods. There was also hot apple cider and beer. Pretty awesome spread! We got our food and sat in some chairs to eat. I was still shaking so much I couldn’t even balance my chili bowl on my legs.
After hanging out in the hotel for awhile we decided it was time to head back out into the cold (it had only warmed up to about 30 at this point) and walk back to the truck. It never felt so good to put on sweat pants and a jacket! It took me nearly the entire ride home to warm up, but I finally did.
Overall, I really enjoyed the Star City Half. I would maybe put in a request for it to be about 10 degrees warmer next year, and for them to have more porta potties at the start. But other than that, I loved this race and look forward to running it again sometime. It was especially fun running the entire thing with Kim! I think both Kim and Barry enjoyed the race as well, but they both echoed my wishes for warmer weather. But it’s November after all, and things could have been much worse.
What’s the coldest race you’ve ever run? This was definitely one of the coldest for me. The Drumstick Dash last year was colder, but I was more appropriately dressed. This year’s Hokie Half and Asheville Half were a close second because of the rain.